By Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner
Much has been written about what leaders do to get extraordinary things done, but little has been written about leadership from the constituent’s point of view. These turbulent times require energized constituents who enthusiastically participate in the process and take up the call for more leadership at all levels. We thought it was essential to look into the specific behaviors constituents need from a leader if they are to become fully engaged in and committed to a leader’s call to action.
“CREDIBILITY” is the result of an intensive, ongoing investigation. In writing this book, we have relied upon our own surveys, which over the years have been administered to well over 100,000 people from around the world. In addition, we have accumulated more than double the number of written case studies since the first edition of this book, and they now total well over a thousand. Along with our students, we also have conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews with individuals “admired as leaders” in order to deepen our understanding of and gather personal stories about the key actions and behaviors of credible leaders.
The results from our continuing study have not varied since we began our research in the early 1980s.From the surveys, we identified the qualities people most looked for in those individuals they would be willing to follow; from the case studies and interviews we identified specific actions that give leaders credibility. Focus groups and subject matter experts helped us define and refine the most significant behaviors. Further survey research projects, both within and across organizations, enabled us to validate the importance of these leadership actions and to determine empirically that credibility makes a difference in work attitudes and performance.
One hallmark of credible leaders is that they know they have to continuously develop the capacity of their constituents to put shared values into practice. When individuals, teams, departments, and organizations grow more able to perform their jobs and keep their promises, not only are their reputations enhanced, the leader’s credibility also grows. As a leader, in order to grow your own asset base, you have to invest in others. That’s exactly the conclusion from the Hay Group, which helps Fortune magazine determine its annual ranking of the World’s Most Admired Companies: “The industry champs that really did come through the recession on top differ from the stragglers in at least one way: They actually believe what every company proclaims about people being their most important asset.” By significant margins, the three most admired companies in each industry were much less likely to have laid people off, stopped hiring, or frozen pay than their counterparts, and at the same time invested considerably more in people development. Champion firms “focus particularly on making sure employees feel engaged by their work.”
Leaders must provide the resources and other organizational supports that enable constituents to put their abilities to constructive use. In today’s complex, connected, always-on organizational world, this means going beyond traditional definitions of jobs and even functional classifications. It means increasing the scope of work for everyone, especially those on the front lines. Developing capacity requires you to ask yourself about the assumptions you make regarding the abilities of the people you lead. Just how far are you willing to go to develop the skills people need to be able to contribute effectively to making shared values a way of life? You have to be willing to liberate the leader in everyone and distribute leadership across the organization in order to make yours one of the best places to work.
Niki Mirisch, a talent agent at the William Morris Endeavor Agency in Beverly Hills, exemplified these qualities of credible leadership in her relationship with her assistant. By the time she hired Pranav Sharma, just two years after his graduation from USC, Niki had been negotiating actor deals for more than a decade. Pranav described how Niki helped him develop capacity on the job:
“From the start, Niki created a relationship that allowed me to develop my competence and confidence. Rather than having me do remedial tasks as I had done for two years at another agency—answering phones, writing letters, submitting demo reels—Niki had me listen to her phone calls as she negotiated deals. At the end of each week, we discussed the questions I had about certain deals, and she would ask me how I might handle such negotiations. She even shared with me her misgivings about difficult deals. These informal sessions fostered my self-confidence and made me feel involved.”
Pranav recalled a situation when Niki was unavailable and he had to start the negotiations by himself for the first time. When he finally got hold of Niki and told her what he was doing, he said she had only one question for him: “Why hadn’t you started negotiating the deal earlier? Handle it!” The effect on Pranav was eye-opening:
“Her tone in those two words, ‘Handle it,’made me realize that she trusted me. She believed I could handle this deal on my own, but I also knew I was the one responsible if the deal went sour. I realized we could not succeed without each other. We were interdependently linked. I finished out the negotiations with the producers and relayed the deal to her. Niki made me feel even more powerful when she asked me to get on the phone with her when she told the client the specifics of the deal. At the end of the call, she gave me the credit for making a good deal.”
As Niki clearly understood, people can’t do what they say if they don’t know how. And they can’t do what they say if they don’t have the competence to execute. They can’t do what they say if they don’t have the confidence in themselves to try. They can’t do what they say if they don’t get feedback about how they’re doing. They can’t do what they say if they don’t have any choices about what to do. They can’t do what they say if the climate’s not there to learn.
These truths provide the foundation for five essential components of the leadership relationship that develop the capacity of constituents to act in a free and responsible way:
• Competence: People must have the knowledge and skill to “Do What WeSay WeWill Do.”
• Choice: They must have the latitude to make choices based on what they believe should be done.
• Confidence: They must believe they can do it.
• Climate: They need a culture that encourages some risk-taking and experimentation, accepting mistakes as a chance to learn from experience.
• Communication: They must be constantly informed about what is going on in order to keep up to date.
For any business, the only sustainable competitive advantage is a credible reputation and the ability to deliver what it promises. To maintain that credibility, leaders must foster and sustain liberated people by optimizing these five components within their organization’s culture.
Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner are coauthors of the best-selling book, “The Leadership Challenge.” This book was selected as one of the Top 10 books on leadership of all time (according to The 100 Best Business Books of All Time), won the James A. Hamilton Hospital Administrators’ Book-of-the-Year Award and the Critics’ Choice Award from the nation’s book review editors, was a BusinessWeek best-seller, and has sold more than 1.8 million copies in 20-plus languages. They also developed the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), a 360-degree questionnaire for assessing leadership behavior. More than 400 doctoral dissertations and academic research projects have been based on the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model. For more information, visit http://www.amazon.com/Credibility-Leaders-People-Leadership-Challenge/dp/0470651717/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312302643&sr=8-1